Requiem of the Rose King Volume 1

“Now is the summer of our sweet content made overcast winter by these Tudor clouds. And I, that am not shaped for blackfac’d war, I that am rudely cast and want true majesty, am forced to fight to keep sweet England free. I pray to heaven we fare well. And all who fight us, go to hell!” – Peter Cook (as Richard III in “Blackadder”)

It is always engrossing to see a mixture of British and Japanese culture in manga and anime form, whether it be the Victorians in series like Black Butler, World War II in series like Hetalia, or the works of William Shakespeare in titles such as Romeo X Juliet, and this new title from Aya Kanno, creator of Otomen

Requiem of the Rose King is an adaptation of a series of plays: the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III. These four plays are sometimes considered a tetralogy by some people as they cover the same period: the Wars of the Roses. It should be mentioned however that the manga is not a straightforward faithful adaptation of the plays; it is said (in the publicity) that it is based on an early draft of Richard III.

Requiem of the Rose King depicts the boyhood of Richard III, at this point Richard Plantagenet, son of Richard, Duke of York. The youngest of three brothers, the others being Edward and George, young Richard is loved by his father but hated his mother Cecily who considers him to be a demon child because he was born deformed. However, unlike in Shakespeare’s play where Richard III is hunchbacked, in this he is intersex. His most visible sign of his deformity are his eyes: his right eye is black and his left eye is greyish-white, with his hair combed over it. 

Richard, Duke of York, is currently in the middle of fighting the Wars of the Roses, trying to gain control of the throne from the Lancastrian King Henry VI. Over the years, young Richard grows up but is constantly denied his chance to fight in the war. Cecily wants him locked away in his chambers, but young Richard finds a way to escape from his room. In the nearby woods he meets a young girl name Anne Neville who seems to become the main love interest and he saves a white boar which he adopts as a pet. Richard also meets a man who calls himself a shepherd who longs for peace. It turns out that this shepherd is actually the pious Henry VI, who is not keen on fighting, unlike his wife Margaret.

As stated, this manga is not a faithful adaptation, with some supernatural elements (mind you, ghosts in Shakespeare are commonplace for example, including the original play). Aside from the issue of young Richard being intersex rather than hunchbacked (although the idea of Richard III being hunchbacked itself is disputed) another error I spotted concerned Henry VI. In one scene we see him saying the Lord’s Prayer, but he ends it with the words, “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever”, which is the Protestant version of the prayer, and Protestantism was not introduced into England until the Tudors. Henry VI would have been Catholic. 

Another issue is that young Richard has a faithful servant called Catesby, who is presumably William Catesby. If it is, there is another inaccuracy, in that he appears to be black (Moorish maybe, akin to Othello?) Now I realise that this manga has some fantasy elements and is not a strict adaptation of the series, but why did the mangaka decide to make a real-life historical figure black? This is really odd when you compare it to other manga. Take Magi for example, which is based on the Arabian Nights but in the manga everyone is seemingly white. It seems you can get a black guy into Medieval England but you can’t get an Arab into Arabia. Strangely however, there is one scene in which Henry VI storms out of a feast when what look like belly dancers try to entertain him.

The manga does have some plus points however, Aya Kanno’s art being the main one. I especially like the depiction of young Richard, a man who, weak in body, is strong in will. Henry VI also has a god-like charm, matching his religious nature. Then there are the grand battles, hand-to-hand fighting, and glorious deaths of some of the major characters. The story itself is also interesting in its own right, with young Richard’s desire to show his strength against people’s prejudices against his looks. It is not faithful, but still a decent story.

Requiem of the Rose King is not a manga for readers who like their Shakespeare to stick to the script verbatim. It is mainly for those who like their historical fiction with a slight touch of the gothic, and for pedants who like to point out every single error they can find.

7 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. His debut book, CLAMPdown, about the manga collective CLAMP, is available now. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

More posts from Ian Wolf...